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I encounter a lot of new music via my drawing class, where the model chooses the music from the studio’s collection of over 1000 CDs. For two days solid, I have been singing to myself the bits I can remember from a folk opera of the Orpheus story, Hadestown, by the songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, with Greg Brown, Justin Vernon, and Ani DiFranco among the other singers (arranged by Michael Chorney). Since we usually change the music after each break, and the model takes a break every 20 minutes, I’ve heard the first half of a lot of albums, including this one. So I don’t know whether the end is as terrific as the beginning, but I will when the copy I’ve ordered arrives.

Hadestown puts me in mind of Neil Gaiman, which is always a compliment, as he’s one of my favorite writers. The connection is oblique: no explicit overlap, but a shared steeped-ness in mythology and Gaiman’s knack for moving fluidly between ancient myths and modern events, concerns, and language. Specifically, it’s reminding me of American Gods, even though the memorable underworld scenes there draw on Egyptian and Norse stories, and actually, of the dozens of gods Gaiman portrays and plays with in that brilliant novel, the Greek pantheon barely makes an appearance. But Greg Brown as Hades sounds like the kind of thing Gaiman would approve.

I am not a big fan of Mitchell’s voice, which can attain a level of cute-little-girlishness that makes Nanci Griffith sound gritty, but the opening lyrics were so arresting that I kept listening hard. That first song, “Wedding Song,” sounds like it must have grown over the centuries, as if Mitchell found it instead of writing it. It’s a dialogue:

Lover, tell me if you can
Who’s gonna buy the wedding bands?
Times being what they are
Hard and getting harder all the time

Lover, when I sing my song
All the rivers sing along
And they’re gonna break their banks for me
To lay their gold around my feet
All a-flashing in the pan, all to fashion for your hand
The river’s gonna give us the wedding bands

Lover, tell me, if you’re able
Who’s gonna lay the wedding table? etc.

Photo by Bob Tubbs, released into the public domain

The other song I can’t get out of my head is “Why We Build the Wall.” Mitchell has remembered that Hades, god of the underworld, is also god of money, and when I hear this song I think of all the walls we “haves” put between us and the “have-nots.” Literally walls–why else do I lock my front door, except to keep people with less property from making off with some of the stuff I’ve accumulated?–and then there’s the fence between the U.S. and Mexico, the wall between Israel and the territories it occupies, the Berlin Wall, the wall once outlining a stockade in New Amsterdam that probably gave its name to Wall Street, Robert Frost’s wall that his narrator keeps mending, though he would prefer to let it collapse. Figuratively, it’s about everything that these and other walls stand for: the way we shut others out and, in the same act, shut ourselves in; or shut others in, and in the same act, shut ourselves out.

This song is also in dialogue form: Hades catechizing a chorus that represents Cerberus. (Or as we Harry Potter fans call him, Fluffy.) (ETA: Now that I have the CD, I see that whatever website I pulled the lyrics from was wrong. There is a character Cerberus, but that’s not who is singing; it’s the chorus.)

Why do we build the wall?
My children, my children
Why do we build the wall?

Why do we build the wall?
We build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

How does the wall keep us free?
My children, my children
How does the wall keep us free?

How does the wall keep us free?
The wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

Who do we call the enemy?
My children, my children
Who do we call the enemy?

Who do we call the enemy?
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

Just as the “War on Poverty” turned into a war against the poor, the enemy seems to be not poverty itself, but poorer people. Hades says we build the wall “Because we have and they have not!,” and when he asks, “What do we have that they should want?,” Cerberus replies with chilling circularity:

We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none
And our work is never done
My children, my children
And the war is never won
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall . . .

That same circularity is what keeps the poor always with us. Divide ourselves, conquer ourselves, and fight, not want, but those who want what we have got. That suits the powers that be (the powers that have the most) very well.

Mitchell evokes the irony of how, even while we cut ourselves off from each other and the vast possibilities on the other side of the wall, we’re often motivated by a desire “to keep us free.” The driven, chain-gang chanting of Cerberus makes it clear that it isn’t working.


My mother was here for Thanksgiving and, bless her, she urged me and Joy to go out on Saturday night while she took care of the munchkin. We were going to pick a nice restaurant, but Joy wasn’t feeling so well, so we opted for a cafe where we could just sit and have an actual uninterrupted adult conversation. We headed for the Mission District, where cafes are plentiful, and walked around in search of the right place.

My criteria were (1) food substantial enough to constitute dinner for me, since my stomach was fine and empty, and (2) a nice atmosphere. We walked by a place neither of us had been to or heard of before, which, judging from the outside, had atmosphere galore. I like Cuban, and there were veggie options, so in we went. I had an interestingly international veggie plate: samosa (always black-humorous in a Latin American context), Cuban black beans, basmati rice, and salad. The interior decor was very entertaining.


Our table was covered with life-size anatomical drawings of the muscles of the leg. The walls included memorial altars to Roque Dalton and John Lennon–twenty years later, I still painful to see the front page of the next day’s New York Post, which was the Lennon altar’s backdrop. Altered Barbies were much in evidence, some of them engaging in activities that you wouldn’t want your prepubescent Barbie-loving daughter to see. (We missed last month’s Altered Barbie show,so this was a nice consolation.) A very determined octopus threatened to come into the bathroom via the air vent. All in all, atmosphere out the wazoo.

Also, the exterior alone makes it a place that should be on my upcoming tour of public art in the Mission, which seven generous and lucky bidders won in our church auction. I’ve also been looking for a lunch place that has vegan dishes, since one of the seven is vegan, so I asked Radio Habana if they were open for lunch, but alas, no. So, returning to Plan A (a taqueria), today I researched a taqueria that has a lot of vegan options. How burdensome and laborious. It was delicious.

In some kind of personal record, I am going to make reference to four texts in one ten-minute Thanksgiving homily this morning:

Matthew 19:16-22 (here’s the King James Version)

And, behold, one came and said unto [Jesus], Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Thirteen Observations Made by Lemony Snicket While Watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance

There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself.

Deuteronomy 6:10-12 (KJV again)

And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

The old story of Thankgiving,
as told by our Associate Minister of Religious Education, Dan Harper.

Let us give thanks and pursue justice, for we drink from wells we did not dig.

I’m off to the PICO National Gathering of Clergy, in New Orleans. I’m hoping they will make specific reference to the Occupy movement and ways clergy and faith communities can work either directly with it or pulling alongside in the same direction. Peninsula Interfaith Action (PIA), the PICO-affiliated faith-based-community-organizing group to which my congregation belongs, has been working on economic justice issues since its founding, and they often overlap with the issues raised by this movement.

Just last summer, PIA leaders were putting together a presentation on the banking crisis and its connection to our communities, including actions we could take, such as asking our cities to take their money out of the bailed-out banks unless those banks agreed to certain behavior toward the people of the city. We could see the connections, but we were really worried that others wouldn’t and therefore wouldn’t be interested enough to show up. I mean, banks. Yawn. Now people are talking about banks all the time. Several weeks ago, I was in line at a grocery store in Palo Alto and the woman ahead of me and the checkout clerk were chatting about moving their money into a credit union. Interesting cross-section of classes, there: chances are, as it’s a pretty upscale grocery, the woman in line has a lot more money than the checker, but they were united.

So the community is concerned about these issues, and making connections between their money as depositors and what banks do as lenders, and likewise, between what banks do as lenders and the housing misfortunes of their neighbors and communities (and maybe themselves). Part of what PIA does for me is help me see myself and members of my congregation as community organizers. That implies a lot of skills that I’d like to hone.

There’s a lot of good writing out there about what the Occupy movement is about. Did someone say we need a unified voice? Did the people in Tahrir Square have a unified voice? The international reports gave the boiled-down story as “Mubarak must go,” yes, and most of them seem to have agreed on that, but they had plenty of disagreement about what else and what next. Social movements only look tidy from a distance. So the writers don’t all agree, but it’s fascinating to watch them converge on the key points. Here are three short pieces, clear and thoughtful.

A few months ago, Doug Muder wrote an essay about how the Tea Party had it backwards but could turn it around by replacing the word “government” with the word “corporations.” “They know they’re under somebody’s thumb, but they’re confused about whose thumb it is,” he wrote. “So when they strike back, they swing at the wrong guys.” When, the next month, people began occupying Wall Street, it struck me that someone had at last said, “Right, let’s turn it around and put that same energy into acting on the real sources of our problems.”

One Word Turns the Tea Party Around
, Doug Muder

The Buddhists, bless them, remind me to have care and compassion for the entire 100%.

Occupying the Present Moment: Why BPF Supports the Occupy Movement

And Lemony Snicket is Lemony Snicket. Joy and I have been trading favorite lines from this piece. At the moment mine is “There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself.” (I said I had compassion for all 100%, not that I couldn’t be sarcastic about any of them. And the Buddhists and Snicket are united on this point: we none of us created our situation all by ourselves.)

Thirteen Observations Made by Lemony Snicket While Watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance

Like Muder, I think the Tea Partiers are on to something, and I’m very hopeful now that a lot of people seem to be running the right way. A full 55%, in a poll I read this morning, think inequality is a significant problem in America; only 21% see it as no problem or not much of one. ABC News is running a story, “Should You Join the Credit Union Boom?” The reporter’s answer: yes, probably.

Be very, very careful when choosing a company motto. People will hold you to it, especially if it’s as memorable as Google’s. And yes, I know that Google officially (if quietly) dropped the motto “don’t be evil” a couple of years ago, but I’m afraid I’m still going to hold them to it, because they touted it for several years and got everyone’s attention. And because taking notice of occasions when someone is being evil is one of those things I consider my responsibility as a human being.

As big companies go, Google seems to do a pretty good job of not being evil. It slips now and then, like when it allowed China to have a version of Google that would censor out inconvenient websites like ones implying that Tibet is actually a country under occupation, not a province of China, or that people were massacred in Tiananmen Square. But it has a strong commitment to sustainability, and, going by my informal survey of all the people I’ve known at Google, it’s great to their employees. (Also, I had lunch there with a friend last week, and its food lives up to its reputation.)

However, it’s time to hold its feet to that motto again. Google has just given a pot of money to legislators who are, look at that, supporting a tax holiday that would put millions of dollars back in its pocket.

Bill Sponsors Get big Donations from Corporations That Want a Tax Holiday

Imagine what we could do with a trillion dollars. Instead, we’ll have to make it up by other kinds of taxes, on people who don’t have money to spend on lobbyists, or by cuts to services that are especially needed right now. I don’t think the US economy can afford to make a gift of that size to companies that are doing just fine without it, do you? In fact, I consider it such an egregious manipulation of tax policy for a few people’s gain that I would call it evil. Come on, Google, pay your taxes and quit yer bellyaching.

I don’t get to vote on Google policy (you have to own some of their stock to do that), but I do vote in Senator Boxer’s state, and work in Representative Eshoo’s district, so I’ve written to them.

A few posts back, I was afraid that Occupy Oakland was setting itself up to look bad by calling for a General Strike without actually organizing a General Strike. Well, work did carry on in Oakland, but by all accounts, hundreds of people walked off the job that day. And the march was huge and peaceful–the word I keep hearing from participants and the media is “jubilant.” Most amazing, they shut down the fifth-largest port in the country–mostly to the cheers of the affected truckers (I note that this was because that union does have a clause about honoring other picket lines, I believe for 24 hours). I don’t recommend shutting down any port long-term as a strategy, but the show of strength was impressive. On a normal day, almost 90 million dollars passes through that port. You can bet the 1% are paying attention now. They don’t want that to happen to the ports where they move their goods. This is one of those times I’m happy to eat crow.

The vandalism that night was really distressing, but carried out by so few people that the main story was still “Seven thousand people protested peacefully.” At least, that’s what they said on NPR and KQED that night. I wasn’t listening to Fox, nor to Forum, where my colleague Jeremy Nickel called in to correct the focus (that blog entry of his is inspiring, by the way, so do click). I like what someone–might have been Jeremy–said on Facebook: if your actions are indistinguishable from a right-wing agent provocateur’s, stop.

Here on Move Your Money Day, I’ll also note that the 99% Movement (we really have to stop calling ourselves Occupiers–who the heck wants to live under occupation? though I like the twist of occupying your own damn country) can claim credit for the big banks’ dropping their plans to charge $5/month for debit cards.  It is not the systemic change we need; they are throwing down a few crumbs, hoping we will stop demanding a fair slice of the pie. But since people have been grumbling about bank fees for years without the banks taking any notice, it’s a measure of the power of this movement that this time, they backed off.

The idea that the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare is so completely unsupported by any evidence that you have to wonder why anyone still takes it seriously. It might make a good movie (or not–haven’t seen Anonymous, but there are some terrific actors in it, so maybe it would be a hoot) but as a theory, it’s ludicrous.

For example, three major plOnly known painting of WS, possibly by John Taylor. National Portrait Gallery, London. Public domain.ays of Shakespeare were produced after Oxford died (1604): King Lear (c. 1606), The Tempest, (c. 1611), and Macbeth (c. 1603, when Oxford was alive but dying of plague). Could they have sat in a cupboard after their author’s death? Well, The Tempest and King Lear make reference to real-life recent events that happened well after Oxford had shuffled off this mortal coil, as he himself did not write. Lear talks about “these late eclipses,” referring to solar and lunar eclipses that happened in quick succession in 1605, causing great consternation. The Tempest draws heavily on a 1610 report of a major shipwreck in Bermuda, as is clear from the parallels between the play’s text and the report.  It’s harder to prove that Macbeth was written in 1603 or later, but scholars have long thought it was timed to respond to the Scottish King James VI’s ascension to the English throne that year, so that someone who spent the year dying of plague was probably not its author.

While a theory may be sound even if it has been proposed for unsound reasons, it’s worth looking at why and when the “Oxford was ‘Shakespeare'” myth got started. It began in the 19th century, when theories that “eminence” correlated to intelligence were popularized and given supposedly scientific backing by such psychologists as J. M. Cattell. Shakespeare gave the lie to such theories. How could a tradesman’s son (his father was a glover) be so brilliant? Surely the greatest  poetry and drama in the English language must have been written by someone with wealth, advanced formal education, and status–someone (hm!) like the scientists themselves.

This idea, which of course was applied not just to Shakespeare but to all of us, got a new boost in the 20th century, when Catherine Cox, working with her mentor Lewis Terman (developer of the IQ test), engineered a neat piece of circular reasoning by using social class, the education level of one’s parents, one’s own amount of formal schooling, etc. as part of the formula for intelligence. As Stephen Jay Gould wrote in The Mismeasure of Man, “In one case, however, Cox couldn’t bear to record the unpleasant result that her methods dictated. Shakespeare, of humble origin and unknown childhood, would have scored below 100 [i.e., subnormal]. So Cox simply left him out, even though she included others with equally inadequate childhood records.” (217) So much for a scientific approach.

The same arguments about intelligence and class were rewarmed and served up again in 1994, with a similar disdain for scientific rigor, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in The Bell Curve, a book that got far too much serious attention. The belief that the achievement gap between rich and poor (where it exists) has to do with inherent differences rather than the socially constructed inequities of opportunity and privilege is alive and well. We are looking for talent at Harvard, where the biggest affirmative action program is legacy admissions (that is, you get into Harvard because your dad went to Harvard), when it is just as likely to be found in places the aristocrats don’t hang out. As Gould wrote elsewhere, “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” If we don’t shake the myth that people who share Shakespeare’s background are inherently unlikely (that is, even more unlikely than wealthier others) to share his genius, that’s where they’ll stay.

We know from studies of contemporary religious affiliation that upwards of 500,000 US Americans consider themselves Unitarian Universalists, of whom some two-thirds have no formal affiliation with a UU congregation. It raises very interesting questions for those of us who are affiliated. Do these folks want to belong to a UU church but haven’t found a welcome there? Is there a way our congregations could be serving their spiritual needs, regardless of whether they become members in the way we currently define membership? Should we within congregations join forces with these folks outside them in our social justice work? It’s hard to know the answers to these questions without knowing why they consider themselves UU and why they’re not members of a congregation. Tandi Rogers, who works on growth issues for the Unitarian Universalist Association, has created a survey to try to learn a little more.

If you identify as “Unitarian,” “Universalist,” or “UU,” but you don’t belong to or regularly attend a UU congregation, I hope you’ll have your voice included in this 13-question survey of “Free Range UUs” (LOL). You also might be a good candidate for this survey if you describe yourself as “spiritual but not religious.”

Earlier today, Egyptians marched from Tahrir Square to the US Embassy in solidarity with Occupy Oakland. The circuit is complete and the power is ON!

If you’re a little closer than Egypt, say, in the Bay Area, please read this:

1. There will be a tent called the “Sacred Space Tent” that will be the clearinghouse and meeting place for clergy related info and events. The tent will be interfaith and non-faith welcoming. It will have a very high flag or other identifying markings. It will be staffed from 8 AM – 10 PM by a clergy person of some faith tradition. If you are interested in helping staff this group show up early to sign up for a time slot.

2. All Clergy should gather at the Sacred Space Tent a half hour before the three march times (9 AM, 12 PM and 5 PM) so that we can all march together and multiply the effect of our presence. Those meet-up times at the tent are:
-8:30 AM
-11:30 AM
-4:30 PM
These are very important meet-up times and should be spread as widely as possible through all of your networks.

Another opportunity for people of faith at the General Strike (held in the Interfaith Tent):
Wed. 11/2 – 1:30 – 3:30 pm: What is Wise Response? A conversation about ongoing faith-based responses within Occupy Oakland.
The General Strike on November 2nd is only the beginning. How can faith-based people participate in this ongoing movement of resistance? Join Spring Washam with East Bay Meditation Center, Dawn Haney with Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and others to have a conversation about how our practices and teachings can strengthen Occupy Oakland.

3. There will be trainings going on all day Tuesday, Nov 1 for anyone (clergy, lay, etc) who wishes to learn more about non-violence and how to embody the principles of Gandhi and King in the actions that we will be participating in on Wednesday.

Finally, we ask that you not only come on Wednesday, but that you bring as many people with you as you can, spread this information through all your networks and contacts!

My inner organizer is not thrilled with the “General Strike” part of the event. I appreciate the sense of history that made Occupy Oakland call for a General Strike today, but I suspect that the last General Strike in the US–in Oakland, in 1946–had some more organization behind it. People do not just walk off the job in massive numbers because a small group suggests it the week before, even when they sympathize with the cause. It takes a lot of planning and consultation: for example, with labor unions. So I doubt the strike will be widespread, though I’d love to be surprised.

In any case, my concern is not that a strike is a bad idea but that the Oakland protesters and the wider 99% movement will feel deflated if there is little response to the call for a strike, even if by every other measure things go well. But I don’t think they should. I will consider the day a success if a couple of thousand people show up and we get good press.

I was strongly tempted to be there, but I have prior obligations at home and decided instead to devote a chunk of today to supporting the movement in a couple other ways. One, the Palo Alto Police Department was involved in the October 25 clash between police and protesters, and tear-gassed the crowd. As a Palo Alto clergyperson I want to speak up about this, so I’m writing something to send to the paper. Two, I’m eager to take the movement to other places besides the streets. After all, people can’t live on the street forever–many of us, fortunate enough to be employed–can’t protest in that way for more than a few hours here and there–and the point of the movement is not to camp out but to press for needed changes in every way we can. I’m going to call together some of the folks in my congregation and the community to suggest some other actions.

And I’m so thankful to everyone who went to Oakland today, with particular gratitude for colleagues (hello, Jeremy Nickel, author of the above call to clergy) who are organizing and staffing the interfaith clergy presence there.

Here’s Alan Grayson with an excellent articulation of the issues.

ETA: Today I’m also going to take the necessary steps to move all my money to the credit union I joined several months ago. I’ve kept my old checking account for complex and boring reasons, but it’s time to move. It will feel good to be investing in my neighbors and businesses in the Mission, via an organization whose purpose is to help its customers, not put money in the pockets of faraway speculators. For a long time I figured there were no credit unions I was eligible for, but it turned out that I could join this one simply by virtue of my address. Here’s how to find a credit union you’re eligible for.

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